The olfactory neuroepithelium is unique in adult vertebrates in that bipolar sensory neurons are constantly dying and being replaced. The sensory neurons are also unusual because they are directly exposed to the external environment via their dendritic processes in the nasal cavity. Surveillance of this tissue by major histocompatibility complex (MHC) class I-restricted cytotoxic T cells would presumably serve as an important means of defense against foreign pathogens. Although adult brain shows a lack of class I molecules, it has not been reported if either proliferating neurons or sensory neurons in olfactory neuroepithelium also lack class I. To examine olfactory neuroepithelium, an antiserum against beta 2-microglobulin (beta 2-m), the invariant light chain associated with all class I molecules, was employed as a general probe in an immunocytochemical assay. beta 2-m was detected in columnar respiratory epithelium, blood vessel walls, and a small population of interstitial cells in the lamina propria, but no cell in the olfactory neuroepithelium stained for beta 2-m. Parallel patterns were obtained in the vomeronasal organ. These results suggest that lack of beta 2-m, and presumably class I, may be a general phenotype of neuronal cells regardless of their mitotic state or exposure to environmental antigens.

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